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A storm is brewing in Washington, one that could darken political debate for months to come. It's about the debt, the deficit, taxes and spending - issues lawmakers have been fighting about for years now. This time, though, there's a deadline.
As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, the consequences of inaction would be immediate. And that has many in Washington are saying...
ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: Here we go again. In the past week, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have begun a new round of sparring over the U.S. debt ceiling. That's the limit on the country's line of credit, a limit that lawmakers have set and raised dozens of times over the years, as the federal government has spent more than it's taken in.
When John Boehner and the GOP took the House majority at the beginning of 2011, the speaker laid down a new principle: Republicans would not pass an increase in the debt limit unless an equal amount of dollars were cut from the budget. And they said they would not consider tax increases on the wealthy as a way to fix the deficit.
The partisan fighting that followed was among the most acrimonious, bitter, and biting debates many in Washington can remember.
Now, fast forward to last week and a speech Boehner gave to the Peterson Foundation's 2012 Fiscal Summit.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: In my view, the debt limit exists precisely so that government is forced to address its fiscal issues.
SEABROOK: Boehner told the hundreds of economists, policy experts and political operatives present that he is sticking to those principals and, furthermore, he will demand a vote on the debt ceiling before this fall's elections.
Last summer's debate was a doozy, but in many ways, the approaching crisis is much worse. Lawmakers have passed so many temporary bills in recent years that an almost unbelievable number of problems come to a head all on the same day, January 1st, 2013. If Washington doesn't act by that day, tax rates will shoot up for everyone, huge indiscriminate cuts in military and domestic programs will take place and, shortly after that, the nation will again hit the debt ceiling, putting into doubt whether the government can pay its bills.
Said Boehner in his fiscal policy speech...
BOEHNER: Now, previous Congresses have encountered lesser precipices with lower stakes and made a beeline for the closest lame duck escape hatch. Let me put your mind at ease. This Congress will not follow that path if I have anything to do with it.
SEABROOK: To which, the Obama administration responded...
JAY CARNEY: We're not going to recreate the debt ceiling debacle of last August.
SEABROOK: White House spokesman Jay Carney.
CARNEY: It is simply not acceptable to hold the American and global economy hostage to one party's political ideology.
SEABROOK: Now, perhaps the biggest sticking point to last summer's negotiations was a split among House Republicans themselves. Dozens of them had been elected only months before, many promising to carry their strict conservative principles to Washington.
Compromise was not their plan and, even when the speaker and president came close to a broadly applauded deal, a critical number of Republicans refused to vote for it.
On ABC this past Sunday, Boehner acknowledged this friction still exists in his party.
You know, I've never been shy about leading, but you know, leaders need followers and we've got 89 brand new members. We've got a pretty disparate caucus and it's hard to keep 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to get a bill passed.
Boehner said it's not a bad thing that House Republicans want him to go further, to do more.
BOEHNER: I want to do more, too, but Republicans are still a minority here in Washington. They got - the Democrats control the Senate. We've got a Democrat in the White House and our members are pretty frustrated.
SEABROOK: This may be the real point here. Rather than having to compromise on spending, taxes and a debt deal going forward, Boehner and House Republicans would like to find a way to get their principles enshrined in law, and the only way to do that is to change the political makeup of the government itself. So, while they'll talk about this issue a lot in the coming months, real solutions won't likely come before election day.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.
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